Modern Labor Union Trends, Membership & Practices

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  • 0:02 What Are Unions?
  • 0:55 Membership
  • 3:01 Union Trends
  • 4:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Tammy Galloway

Tammy teaches business courses at the post-secondary and secondary level and has a master's of business administration in finance.

In this lesson, we'll define a union and discuss the participants in the process: employees, unions, and employers. We'll also explain why unions have been declining over the years.

What Are Unions?

Joe just graduated from college and works for a major manufacturing plant. Many plant employees are unsatisfied with the plant's management. They offer outrageous health care benefits; many plant workers have become ill with cancer, which was believed to be caused by harmful chemicals in the environment; and wages are at an all-time low. Joe's dad, Alan, who recently retired from another manufacturing plant in the area, told Joe the employees should meet and discuss joining a union. A union is a collection of employees organized to represent the workers' interest.

Unionized employees enjoy higher wages, better benefits, and overall a more satisfactory working environment. Alan explained he was a union representative before he retired and can provide a roadmap of how the process works. Alan tells Joe about union membership, practices, and trends.


Alan tells Joe unions are formed when employers ignore employee grievances. In order to form a unionized organization, 30% of the employees must sign signature cards to show interest. After which, the National Labor Standards Board (NLSB) holds a secret ballot where 51% of the employees must agree to join a union. During this process, the employer is legally prohibited from threatening, firing, or laying off an employee; withholding benefits; reducing salary or wages; or closing the business. Once the majority is confirmed, the NLSB certifies the union as the employee's legal bargaining representative. Employees elect union representatives and begin working with the employer.

The union's role is to collaborate with the employer to set forth work rules. Work rules are standards that outline compensation and the rights and obligations of the employer and employees. Work rules can be created by the union or employer; however, they must agree on the terms of each rule before finalizing the collective bargaining agreement.

The collective bargaining agreement is the final arrangement between the union and employer on wages, benefits, insurance, termination procedures, training processes, responsibilities of the employees and employers, and rights of each. It's important to reiterate that the union represents the workers, management represents the employer, and reaching an agreement on work rules is a long, tedious process.

In many instances, neither party will agree, and a mediator will be needed to resolve the issues. A mediator is a neutral 3rd party who makes suggestions on how to resolve the disagreements. It's in the best interest of both parties to work toward a resolution to save time and money.

Alan mentions to his son that union representation would allow him to gain valuable experience in labor relations and legislation, which would definitely give him an edge in becoming an employment attorney. Joe tells his dad he's certainly interested in being a union representative.

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